Saturday, July 4, 2009

Pick 4 at Belmont and a Tour de France note

Happy Independence Day to all! A quick Tour note and a pick 4 at Belmont.

My favorite sporting event of the year,the Tour de'France, begins today with a time trial. I posted a lot about the race last year but don't intend to do quite as much this year. After all this space is supposed to be about horses. But I will say I expect Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour winner, to reaffirm himself as the tour champion. He was unable to race last year because his team, Astana, was suspended from competing in the Tour because team members had been caught (and banished)for doping the previous season. It was an unfortunate circumstance for Contador as he was not part of the team the year in question. But cycling has taken a hard stance against doping and, in my opinion, it's working. Horseracing can certainly learn a lot from cycling on the issue of how to handle drug violations. However, to prove his mettle Contador did win the other two grand tours of cycling last year; The Giro (Tour of Italy) and the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain). The only questions in my mind are about the team. Bruyneel (former director of team Discovery during the Armstrong years) has assembled a sort of all-star squad both in GC contenders with Contador, Armstrong, and Leipheimer as well as with his domestiques Popovych, Horner, Kloden and Rubiera. Sometimes those type of teams just don't work. Who will be the leader? - Armstrong says they'll work it out on the road. And he has been very supportive of the cast while riding in his prep races. But to win the Tour a team needs to be on the same page and supporting the same we shall see. Contador is just a superior climber and the mountains is where the Tour is really won. I expect Lance to ride well but in the end realize that Alberto is the man to support. Of course he's proven many wrong before: seven times! And as with every grand tour a rider needs a little luck in avoiding injury during almost 2,200 miles of racing!
Another highlight this year should be watching Team Columbia's, Mark Cavendish compete for the green jersey (sprinter) this year. He has established himself as the most exciting and swiftest sprinter in the world.

The Pick four at Belmont.

The Dwyer (G2)
I like Kensei to win in this spot. To me he is the classiest horse in the race. I think the race will be very quick early, he rates well and Prado is patient. He has given a good measure of himself in every race and seems to still be improving. He should also improve with the added distance. His workout on 6/22 is about as fast as a Asmussen horse will go first work after a race so you know he's happy and healthy. A freshener on 6/29 has him ready.
I'm lukewarm on the ML favorite Warrior's Reward. Obviously he is maturing well and has run his two best races since coming off the layoff. He received a 113 Beyer for his NW1x Churchill score on 5/1 but I'm always a skeptic when it comes to those numbers on Oaks or Derby day. As a matter of fact I'm not a real big speed figure handicapper though obviously I consider them. I really don't think they were very tough spots either. Maybe he will emerge here as the real deal but I have too many questions to bet him at 9-5.
For some value I'm adding Convocation. He had an excuse in each of his first three races and still ran respectably in 3 of them. He finally put it all together last race on the under card on Belmont S. day. He also earned a career high 96 Beyer on a big day but he had earned a similar number before so it doesn't seem to be an anomaly. His pedigree is impeccable, Alan Garcia has the mount and the remainder of the field all have a lot of holes in the resume.

The Prioress (G1)
This is going to be a great race! A case can be made for every fillie. I'm going with Gabby's Golden Girl. She can obviously run a hole in the wind going a mile. I don't usually like a horse coming off several route's to a sprint but this case is a little different. she has carved out fast early fractions in each contest. The last was a one mile sprint for her after fractions that would win any true sprint. Baffert has had her east on dirt tracks for several months already and at Belmont since at least the end of may. She keeps shooting bullets in the morning and doesn't seem to have missed a beat so she must be very sound. I think today can be a career best for her. If she stays around the 7-2 ML she's a bargain.
For the purposes of a P4 ticket I'll add, On the Menu and Heart Ashley. Perhaps On the Menu has the better situation as he breaks from the outside.

Suburban H. (G2)
I like Asiatic Boy to win. He's obviously a very classy horse. I can forgive his runner-up finish (as if a G1 placing needs to be excused) in the S. Foster because it was his first race in the U.S. and he had a little trip trouble. He's back at Belmont where he's at home, he will have pace to close into and is not running into the most difficult of fields. I'm tempted to single him here for the P4 but will also add Rising Moon to my ticket.
Rising Moon is an ouchy horse, but by all signs he remains healthy and on schedule for a big performance. I like the 4f bullet on 7/1, just three days ago. He's flying a little under the radar for a Dutrow horse and he has shown he likes the track. Like Asiatic Boy he will track the pace and try to pick up the pieces in the lane. I think he may give the winner a run for his money here.
While I think It's a Bird will hit the board I just don't like him in this spot. I think he is a little over rated, has ran some very big races this year and likes to be a little too close to what I believe will be a fast early pace.
This is a very good spot for Finallymadeit but I just don't think he quite has the class of Asiatic Boy. Though he can control the race from his post he has a bad habit of folding late when seriously pressed going shorter so at 1-1/4 I don't see him hitting the board.

11th MSW $44K

It's nice to have a handful of horses for the final leg of a pick 4 but I don't think it's necessary here. The Clement entry looks extremely tough, perhaps worthy of a single but I'll pad the ticket with a value saver, Harlan's Band. He's got a race into him now and he didn't embarrass himself in that spot. McLaughlin is terrific with turf horses. In my estimation with the exceptions of the first time starter, Flight Song and Tawaared he has the most possible upside as far possible improvement. I'm throwing Flight Song out as I think it's just too tough of a field for a firster and it seems that Tawaared may have hit a plateau for the moment so The Clement entry and Harlan's Band are the picks in the final.

The Pick 4 Ticket $36
R11-1 entry, 3

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Don't Shoot the Messenger

Today in the TDN Arthur Hancock wrote an op-ed piece in which he states an opinion that is contrary to many of those in Kentucky, and the industry in general, while taking a stand against slots. On this issue I am am full agreement with him.

In my opinion the introduction of slots is the beginning of the end for racing. I understand that the initial boost of money received by racing in those jurisdictions where slots are introduced is welcome and seems an end to the penurious existence in which they exist. However, the mere fact that they are receiving an allowance from another industry should make it obvious that they are becoming expendable.

Racing requires hundreds of acres of land - often urban - and,for all intents and purposes, removes that land from the tax grid. Racino's/casino's, whatever you choose to call them, have the benefits of needing much less real estate to be productive, have a guaranteed return on ratio of money wagered and require much less in outlays for insurance, maintenance and salaries, to name just some of the monetary benefits. The lure of tax dollars for states and municipalities (and greedy politicians) is great. When presented with these scenario's what do you think will happen?

Many will scoff at these suppositions and liken me to Chicken Little proclaiming that the sky is falling. Well, in racing it is. And if the fans of racing don't organize we may be attending the funeral before our own time's are up. I can go on an name the tracks we have already lost over the years but instead I will just remind you that in the last year we have lost Bay Meadows, we are watching Hollywood Park only because of the real estate bubble burst and that all of Magna's properties are in jeopardy. Just in case yo don't know which tracks they are let me name a few of the most prominent: Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Laurel and Pimlico (both already reeling), Lone Star.

Here's a quote from today's Saratogian:

For the past several years, the city had derived as much as $3.8 million in state aid from the facility as compensation for hosting video lottery terminals at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway.This year, the city was expecting to receive about half that amount, but the state decided to change the formula entirely, redistributing the money away from Saratoga Springs, while every other host community continues to receive the aid."The new formula discriminates against one community alone," Ivins said. He pointed out that the city had previously lobbied for the money, and that state representatives had voted against the budget, but it had passed anyway.

In NY,as everyone knows by now, NYRA has received a new 25 year lease to manage racing at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. In return NYRA agreed to cede undisputed ownership of the land on which those tracks are built, to the state. At that moment, again in my opinion, we should have heard the bell toll. It is my feeling that neither NYRA nor the State had claim to those properties. I believe the families of the Vanderbilt's and Belmont's own them, but that is beside the point. Why was that an issue to the state? Perhaps politicians can see into the future better than we are able. Perhaps they see a future without racing. A future with Casino's, simulcast outlets, housing developments and malls on all those acres?... all very taxable, all very profitable. And, of course, for those holding positions at NYRA it is another guaranteed 25 years of employment/benefits/retirement in exchange for something they have absolutely no personal stake in protecting. Do you think even one NYRA exec or employee was concerned for racing? It's not being paranoid if they're really after you!

It's a wonder that NYRA was allowed to "sell" off all that property around Aqueduct recently if they didn't own it, isn't it? If Aqueduct exists ten years from now I will be the most surprised person in NY.

Saratoga Springs has recently been informed that video table games will be up and running in the racino within a year. Can anyone read the writing on the wall?

I may not have the same perspective as Arthur Hancock as to how, or why, slots are bad for racing, but I know that in the long run, they are. If there is a future for racing it has to be racing. It is a great sport / business and can exist and be profitable on it's own... given the chance. Those vampires that are living off of it are selling it down the road because they see even more dollar signs with easier pickings elsewhere. I see CDI in this group. Remember that the takeout was created many, many years before there were ADW's and interstate simulcast sharing of that revenue. Originally the tracks/ horsemen divided the entire takeout. As the system is now set up horsemen/tracks receive just a fraction of the takeout from their "own" track. And they are told that what they receive is enough.

Racing is in real danger, both from the remora and the "apparent" solution of racino's. I wish I had a solution to offer but I don't. The best I can offer is to suggest that the majority of the takeout be legislated by law to be returned to racing to fund what it was originally intended: the sport. Make the distribution of takeouts uniform throughout the country so every locality has the same ability to profit or fail from the product they produce. In 1978 Congress created the Interstate Horseracing Act to protect horsemen and racetracks from being ripped off. That legislation needs to be revisited before it is too late for the sport.

Fri. Addendum: I apologize for an incomplete piece last evening. In the NY metro area we were having severe T-storms (again) and the power had already gone out twice so I just posted what I had lest I lose something in transmission. In any case what I really wanted to say after the quote from the Saratogian is that I am not a proponent of government being the care-taker and decision-maker for and about racing, for exactly the reason illustrated. Government is as greedy as any other player. And once they have what they want (more money) and no longer need to deal with you they can change the rules. And they do, as Saratoga Springs is now realizing. I am certain that the $3.8 million SS had received is a pittance compared to the money the race fans bring to the town and entire area in just six weeks; not to mention the vibrancy that makes the town a destination as well. When SS becomes just a day trip to the casino what will all the secondary and tertiary business' do to survive? The scope of racing's good far exceeds just the racetracks.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Rachel Alexandra and the Mother Goose

I have read several opinions on Rachel Alexandra running at Belmont in next Saturday's Mother Goose S.(GI). The majority of them are decidedly against the idea. The last two blog mentions I read were were over at Equispace, and his link over to John at Not to the Swift, two blogs I enjoy (both 6/18 entries). However, on this issue I have to disagree with them.

I think it's a great spot for her to run. First I don't think any Grade I is a gimme. Although I, along with every race fan, would be absolutely shocked if she lost, anything can happen in racing. I don't think it is beneath any horse to win Grade I's. If she does lose and then runs the board the remainder of the year, or even wins most of them if they are very tough spots, the loss will be considered an anomaly and disregarded.

As for HOY I think June is just too early to think about handing that award to a horse. And too early to be sitting on one's accomplishments. There's a half a year (okay 5 months) of racing left and that accolade needs to be earned. To my thinking one race does not earn that award. Unfortunately, the BC events often have the effect of crowning a champion because of one race result; perhaps the worst aspect of the BC. To be HOY a horse has to dance the dances and that means running. Also as far as HOY discussions go lets not forget a mare named Zenyatta or perhaps one of the two other triple crown winners will go on to become dominant. I have high hopes for Summer Bird.

To become legendary a horse has to run and has to win the big races - most of the time. They have to prove they are a legendary type of horse on the track by giving legendary performances. It's not her fault if her competition is not able to challenge her. But she still has to go out and prove that is the case. Secretariat lost five times and his mythical status was not marred. As race fans we wait and wait for great horses to come along and the best thing for racing is to be able to let the fans see them run. I think the most likely outcome is that she wins easily and adds to her heir of superiority, especially over the three-year-old crop.

Also her campaign has to be taken into consideration. Should she just run against the boys because she's already proven she can beat them? I don't think so. Perhaps they do have the Travers in mind. With Jess Jackson I'd say it's a foregone conclusion. But, they still have to get her ready for that day. Sure, Steve Asmussen is capable of training her up to a big spot but does that mean she should run the Haskel and the Travers? Again, I don't think so. I believe a horse has only so many top performances in them each year. The Mother Goose is a race she should win without giving her "A+" effort. But racing fitness is better than training. Running gets another race into her, likely gets her more black type and, most importantly, gives the fans a chance to see her. In a sport where the fans don't get to see the stars often enough this is a treat. Regardless of the outcome of the race I think this is a win-win situation for Rachel Alexandra and racing.

I feel certain that Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen will put her in the big races but you can't win every big race. You have to pick your spots and prepare for them. I fully expect to see her in the Travers. I don't think this is a case of connections ducking a big race but rather preparing for a bigger one. Let's remember it wasn't Jess Jackson and Curlin that didn't show up for last years Woodward S. Regardless if you're a fan or dislike Jess Jackson he does what's best for racing and his horses by running them and caring for them.

I for one am going to be thrilled to get to see her run again. If she wins by 32 lengths I suppose I will be even more thrilled!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Return from across the Pond

I'm back from a several weeks across the pond. It is always difficult to get caught up with the industry results and news after a trip. So even though I was hoping to put up handicapping post for Saturday I won't as I'm just not yet up to speed.

It never fails that I feel woefully distraught over the state of racing in the U.S. upon my return. Returning from this trip I feel this emotion perhaps more poignantly than ever. The reasons are manifold and each deserves to be considered on it's own and I hope to address each in this space in the future. However, the main intention of this post is to let those few that read my blog know that I am back.

I had decided not to post a notice that I would be away because I was considering ending the blog and wanted the three weeks to mull over that decision. When I started this blog it was a way of keeping in contact with a sport/business that I am passionate about. Having gone from a very late blooming fan to working in several aspects of the industry (breeding/breaking-training center/track) and now out of the industry again I felt I could offer a unique perspective. I thought, perhaps, my words/opinions when added to others that also care deeply for the sport would have some power to move the industry in a better direction. But as time goes by the awareness that this was a flawed hope became more and more evident. This realization left me with a sense of ennui and sapped my appetite to continue. It seems even in the blogosphere fans are more self-interested than bent on effecting positive change. My conclusion is that I had started this blog just for the satisfaction of expressing my ideas with the hopes I already expressed. And that has to be enough to continue and it is. I am also grateful for the contacts and friendships that have resulted from interaction with fellow bloggers and I find them payment enough.

In the last 8-9 months I had cut back to basically just handicapping posts and usually only once a week. That has been a result of an increased workload, the blogging ennui I mentioned and that I had agreed to do the weekly handicapping piece for Thorofan. While I was away there has been a huge shakeup at TF and I am no longer associated with them. I will be posting more about this as soon as I learn more and sort out the facts. Lamentable but not unexpected occurrences. More so because they did not put up my final post in which I picked Summer Bird in the Belmont. In any event I think I will continue to do some handicapping posts as I have grown to enjoy them. But that aspect was not the genesis of my blog. In fact I don't think I did a handicapping post until I agreed to do so for TF.I am hoping to recoup some of fire in the belly that I had started with. This trip was good fodder for that hope. Nothing makes vision clearer than comparison.

Before ending I'd like to say what a wonderful job the BBC does with racing telecasts! We in the U.S. can learn a lot from watching. Sure the entire telecast wasn't "all" about the racing but it doesn't have to be. In their Royal Ascot coverage thay had a lot of fashion spots. That's not my cup of tea but I'm sure it kept it interesting enough for some that weren't just race fans to continue watching, my wife for one. She enjoys the races and will often watch them with me but it made the overall experience more fun for her. And it is another aspect that belongs to racing. Unfortunately with the easing of dress codes at the big meets like Saratoga, it is another custom/aspect of racing that is being lost. Nonetheless, their plethora of interviews with jocks, owners, trainers etc. was both interesting, informative and fun. The commentary was also usually informative and insightful. Their entire handicapping system doesn't make a whole lot of sense to a "Yank" but it's fun trying to figure the whole thing out. The entire event is treated as an event that belongs to everyone and should be seen and digestible for everyone; not just 'hard-core' race fans.

Upon my return we have the NYRA / Nassau County OTB fiasco. I'm quickly reminded that I can't watch racing on network TV let alone get to to see many of the races I would like watch on my cable system. I remember way back to the beginning of my blog I wrote a post entitled "Greed." And that is still what this all come down to: Greed, on all sides. While that post was more specifically about ADW's it needn't have been.

In any case it's nice to be back. Now that I have a little less on my plate I hope to be able to up my contribution when compared to the past several months and hope you will come back and visit.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Gamely S. (G1)

Hollywood Park
Gamely S. (G1)
1-1/8 - Fillies &Mares Three-Year-Olds and Upward - $250,000

For a turf race at 1-1/8th the Gamely promises to have a good pace led by the filly Tuscan Evening. She will break from the inside post and attempt to go gate to wire. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee went 1-1/16th in 1:40 2/5 on May 2. It was her first attempt at over a mile. Since then she shows a nice 4f maintenance work in 48 3/5 on 5/21. Her pedigree suggests the added distance should not be a problem. She is fit, improving and likely to be the pace setter on a turf course where speed can hold. She will finish in the money.

Magical Fantasy from the barn of Paddy Gallagher is already a Grade I winner and has recently returned to excellent form. She has the ability to track a good pace and finish well. She exits a nice victory in the Santa Barbara H. (G2) 42 days ago so she is well rested. I expect a big effort from this filly. She will be tracking the pace by several lengths and finish well for second.

I like Modification to win. I am a bit concerned that she may have some distance limitations but I feel she can get the 1-1/8th on the turf even though she has come up a bit short on synthetics at that distance. She is coming off of a 7f win in the GI Humana Distaff at Churchill in 1:23 3/5. So I don’t think she was completely extended. As far as turf form she shows only one race but it was a good effort coming off the bench. With her pedigree she can probably run on anything. I also think her last race, 28 days ago, sets her up perfectly for this spot. I think this is how Allen Jerkens would get a horse ready for a spot like this, albeit the 7f may have been a work and not a race. Nonetheless, I see her putting in a career best performance in the Gamely. Cory Nakatani has the mount and is a perfect fit for this filly that will finish with a flourish to win the B.C. Gamely (G1).

The Picks:
Win: Modification
Place: Magical Fantasy
Show: Tuscan Evening

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Milady Handicap (G2)

1-1/16 Fillies & Mares Three and Up $150,000

When the connections of those running in the Milady H. circled the race on the calendar they didn’t expect to be running against Zenyatta but that is exactly what will happen. The 2009 edition of the Grade 2, mile and a sixteenth event will mark the first start of the year for last year’s champion older female. She had been scheduled to begin her five year old season on May 1, in the Louisville H. (G2) at Churchill but when the track came up muddy John Shirreffs called an audible and scratched her. Zenyatta is a perfect 9for 9 in her career and a perfect 4 for 4 at Hollywood Park. She will be the prohibitive favorite and I don’t believe she can be beaten. If she does lose it would be as much an upset as Mine That Bird’s victory in The Kentucky Derby. There is something very special about a horse that is unbeaten, even more so when they run at the highest levels of racing. She is one of those rare athletes that we hope to be able to see in our lifetimes. Her presence saps value from the race but the pleasure of watching this truly wonderful mare run is reward enough.

On paper Zenyatta’s most likely competition is stable mate Life is Sweet. Garrett Gomez retains the mount and together they will try to extend their streak of three consecutive graded stakes wins. She will probably enter the gate as the second betting choice but I don’t think she will be second to Zenyatta at race’s end. I will take a shot at beating her for second with Champagne Eyes. On paper Life is Sweet has an obvious class advantage. However, like most of the field she likes to come from off the pace. That means running Zenyatta’s race. So, when they turn for home and Zenyatta starts passing them as they start their move I can imagine most of this field becoming discouraged. I do think Life is Sweet has enough class to run on but not with the same confidence. I’ll place her third.

Champagne Eyes is taking a very big step up in this spot. In her only other graded stake, the 2008 Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) she was beaten 10-1/2 lengths while running a poor 4th in a field of five. However, she had just broken her maiden and in Indian Blessing she was facing the reigning Juvenille Filly Champion. It was also a 7f sprint that Indian Blessing ran in 1:19.89! That was a new track record and only .51 shy of the world record. I’ll forgive her that race. After that race she disappeared until April 11 of this year when she resurfaced to win the $70k restricted Santa Lucia H. at 1-1/16th. That race indicates to me that her problems did not compromise her obvious talents. Those considerations and her running style is why I like her for second in this spot. She likes to be forwardly placed but has shown the ability to lay just off the pace and that will help her in the Milady. Gambler’s Justice will probably go to the front with Taste’s Sister, leaving Champagne Eyes in the garden spot. I don’t believe either GJ or TS can get the distance and see Champagne Eyes inheriting the lead on the far turn after getting away with some relatively soft fractions. She won’t be able to hold off Zenyatta but will finish strong enough for second. She also has three works on display since the Santa Lucia. Her 7f work on May 9 in a click over 1:26 tells me she’s ready to roll. Michael Baze has the mount.

The Picks:
Win:--- Zenyatta------A truly great one!
Place:-Champagne Eyes--The O’Neill barn will enjoy some bubbly after this performance.
Show:--Life is Sweet--Just the wrong circumstances for her.

Enjoy the Race!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Preakness (G1)

Preakness S. (G1)
1-3/16 Three-Year-Olds $1,100,000

The 134th running of the Preakness Stakes sets up to be almost as contentious as the Kentucky Derby, and, with the addition of the super filly, Rachel Alexandra, perhaps more interesting.

The connections of Mine That Bird will probably be praying for rain. But even if they get some I don’t think it will help his cause enough to see him in the winner’s circle to collect a second jewel.

In her last race, the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Rachel Alexandra put in a Secretariat like performance winning by more than twenty lengths. Off that race she has been installed as the 8-5 ML favorite. I don’t believe she is that much better than the rest of this field. In fact I don’t think she is the best horse in the field and at 8-5 I will not be wagering on her. I do believe she will be competitive but I don’t think she’ll hit the board. She hasn’t faced anywhere near the level of competition she will face in this race. I like that she has the outside post but it also has its disadvantages. To run forwardly placed, as she likes to be, she will have to expend energy early. Big Drama, Friesan Fire, Papa Clem, Pioneerof the Nile and Take the Points all like to run close to the pace and they will make it difficult for her to get a good trip. In a 1-3/16 race every step can count. The long run to the first turn could help her cause a little. Borel will probably try to find a spot and drop down to the rail. But she will be tested, she will get dirt in her face and the pace will be set by horses that can carry their speed farther than those she has faced. I don’t see her finishing in the top four.

For me Big Drama is the key to the race. Regardless of his pedigree (Montbrook –Riveting Drama by Notebook) I think if he was fit enough he could go gate to wire. However, I think the Pimlico track, that can be tiring and having the best colts in the country pressing his every step will cause him to falter by the wire. This will be just his second race in five months. In his return in the Swale S. (G2) he got a little rubber legged in the stretch and was taken down for bumping This One’s for Phil. I’m sure that race helped get some bottom in him but I don’t think it will be enough. He will be the pace and I think he will run a strong race. But, I see him fading to third inside the 16th pole.

Since I expect a fast pace I think Terrain will finish well. It seems to me all the pieces are in place for him. This is the third race off a layoff. He is well rested having had 35 days since his last race and Jeremy Rose takes the mount adding, perhaps, a little home course advantage. His works are not noteworthy but they are consistent. He shows three maintenance drills and should be the freshest of the quality horses running. I see him coming down the middle of the track late to get up for second.

I think the best horse at the moment, maybe the year, is also the horse that will get the best trip, Musket Man. He breaks from the three hole. From there Coa will be able to get a good stalking position, save ground and wait for the pace to come back to him. The colt appears to have come out of the Derby in great form. He seems to still be getting stronger and improving. As evidence he had 4f bullet move on Tuesday. He is doing so well trainer Derek Ryan has said Musket Man may have put on weight since the Derby. Having run and finished well at Tampa I expect him to like and run well at Pimlico. Questions about his limitations at this distance have already been addressed. However, with his pedigree I think his appearance in the Belmont is still a question so this is his moment to shine. I see a Coa sitting fifth or sixth, two lanes wide, as he guides Musket Man around “Old Hilltop.” He’ll angle out exiting the far turn and finish through the wire to collect the blanket of black-eyed Susans.

The Picks:
Win:---Musket Man--Bags his first Grade I.
Place:-Terrain---------Patience pays off for the connections.
Show:-Big Drama-----If he hadn’t gotten hurt he may have been top of the crop.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Peter Pan S. (G2)

Belmont Park
Peter Pan S. (G3)
1-1/8 Three-Year-Olds $200,000

After Mine That Bird’s upset victory in the Run for the Roses any horse exiting the Sunland Derby will merit reassessment. One of those colts is Scorewithcater, who bested the Derby winner by ¼ length while finishing 3rd. Three weeks prior he scored a neck victory over him in the Borderland Handicap. Scorewithcater likes to come from off the pace. The Peter Pan field is filled with colts that like to be forwardly placed so the race sets up well for him. Also, his pedigree (Even the Score – Runaway Cater by Runaway Groom) suggests that he would benefit from moisture in the surface and after a week of clouds and rain in New York he’s likely to get that. Saturday’s forecast is also calling for morning showers. But, the question remains: is he good enough to win? I don’t think so. But he will have a good pace to close into and I expect the Doug O’Neill trained colt to hit the board.

All eyes will be on Imperial Council. During the prep season the 2-1 ML favorite was considered by many to be a top Derby candidate. His Wood Memorial put the final nail in the coffin of those hopes and now he’s back to prove that the talk wasn’t just hype. Both of his stakes appearances- Wood Memorial (G1), Gotham (G3) - were around two turns and the results were less than stellar. The one turn Peter Pan should be more to his liking. Although his pedigree says distance he has yet to prove that he can win over a route of ground in graded company. He shows a very interesting work tab since the Wood M. There are three tightly bunched works on 4/14, 4/17, and 4/19. I can only imagine he was kicking the barn down and they had to do something with him. He shows a 5f work on 4/26 in 1:02 and a bullet on 5/3. It appears to me that this is a horse that is ready for war. My concern is that he will be too sharp. I won’t be surprised if he wins, but I think he’ll fade approaching the wire and settle for second place money.

I had a very difficult time convincing myself Hello Broadway would win because I really don’t think the distance suits him. My instinct tells me he’ll come up short. However, his pedigree and his 6f work on 4/27 in 1:11 convinced me to give him the benefit of the doubt. That workout is much better than any other he shows at that distance. He then returned with a bullet work on 5/3. He is adding blinkers today and that should help him stay focused; his PP’s hint at him losing interest when he’s in front. Like Imperial Council, I think he’s a better one turn horse. Another point of confidence is that Garrett Gomez is in the irons. Hello Broadway has done his best running when creating the pace, but I’m expecting a different strategy on Saturday. I think they will try to get him to relax a few lengths off the pace, give him a target to run at – Imperial Council - and kick past at the wire. At 5-2 I’m not sure there is value in the wager but if he floats up to about 7-2, as I think he will, I think he is worth a wager. I’m giving him the nod over Imperial Council.

The sleeper in the race is Charitable Man. He may be the best horse in the field. But he’s going to have to prove it by beating me this race. Since moving to Keeneland and now Belmont his works do not instill confidence. At 3-1 on the ML I don’t like the risk. However, I think he is a horse that one should consider in exotics.

The Picks:
Win: Hello Broadway --- Stretches his limit to score the victory.
Place: Imperial Council- Too keen early and is beat at the wire.
Show: Scorewithcater ------------- The race sets up well for him.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

KD results

I don't usually post a result column here but for the KD I decided it appropriate. For results each week visit Thorofan look for the ROTW.
Churchill Downs
Kentucky Derby (G1)
1-1/4 Three-Year-Olds $2,177,200

# Horse ------------------Win------Place------Show------Final Odds
8--- Mine that Bird ---103.20----54.00---- 25.80------$50.60 – 1
16--Pioneerof the Nile------------- 8.40----- 6.40---------$6.30 – 1
2---Musket Man--------------------------- 12.00------------ $19.00 – 1
Splits: 22.98--47.23--1:12.09--1:37.49--2:02.66
$2 Exacta $2,074.80
$2 Trifecta $41,500.60
WPS Pool $43,434,837
Winner: Mine that Bird (g) by Birdstone -Mining My Own (Smart Strike)
Owner: Double Eagle Ranch & Bueno Suerte Equine
Trainer: Bennie Woolley Jr.
Breeder: Lamantia,Blackburn & Needham / Betz Thoroughbreds

The 135th Kentucky Derby once again lived up to the moniker ‘the most exciting two minutes in sports.’ In a patented ‘Bo-rail’ move, jockey Calvin Borel guided the largely ignored Mine That
Bird from a pinched start to a shocking upset. The rail-skimming ride from last to first delivered last year’s Canadian champion two-year-old home 6 ¾ lengths ahead of one of the most contentious fields ever to contest the Kentucky Derby and simultaneously lit up the tote board with the second-biggest payoff in the history of the race. Borel’s unbridled enthusiasm was contagious as he paraded the smallish gelding in front of the cheering crowd of 153,563. The charismatic rider was basking in the glory of his Kentucky Oaks- Kentucky Derby paired successes.
On Friday the popular rider cruised home aboard the sensational and highly favored Rachel Alexandra. On that day more than 20-lengths separated him from the second-pace filly. On Saturday he reveled in every moment of this surprise win as trainer Bennie Wooley Jr. navigated to the infield winner’s circle across the sticky track on his crutches.
At the top of the stretch it looked as though a real race was developing, but Borel shot through on the rail and in a blink of an eye opened up a widening lead on the field. Pioneerof the Nile, Musket Man and Papa Clem battled it out to the wire for second money with Pioneerof the Nile besting Musket Man by a nose and Papa Clem finished a head back of him for 4th money. Both Pioneerof the Nile and Papa Clem were forwardly placed throughout and while no match for the winner continued bravely to the wire. Musket Man had some problems early as he slipped and was bumped but was still able to display why he should be taken more seriously.

In my pre-race analysis Musket Man had been my favorite, but all the bad press about him looking poorly during the week caused me to me jump ship late. Lucky for me, I resurrected my belief in him before post time and put a small wager across the board on the Illinois Derby winner. While I didn’t have to visit the IRS window, there was satisfaction in the result. I also played a Musket Man, Pioneerof the Nile, Papa Clem and Summer Bird superfecta. Unfortunately I picked the wrong ‘Bird.’ The super with Mine That Bird paid an astounding $557,006.40 for a $2 bet! Wow! The results emphasize the lesson that one should always stick with your beliefs. In horse racing anything can happen. If you enjoy the sport, put in the time to learn and observe--it can be a profitable endeavor as well as an enjoyable activity.

It’s my financial misfortune that I ignored playing my own sentimental favorite, Mine That Bird. He was bred in part by Needham/Betz Thoroughbreds in Lexington Kentucky. I had the pleasure of working for this farm during a couple of foaling seasons and while there helped in the care of Mine That Bird’s dam, Mining My Own. She was an unnamed weanling and yearling then. Her dam, Aspenelle also resided at the same farm. So it is with particular joy that I am able to extend my congratulations to my mentors in the breeding end of this business. Among their other success stories are Roman Ruler, El Corredor and Madcap Escapade. Congratulations! And well done!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs
The Kentucky Derby (G1)
1-1/4 Three-Year-Olds $2,000,000

For a race fan I think the Kentucky Derby (G1) is the easiest race of the year to handicap; it is also the easiest race to get wrong. It is easy because one knows all, or at worst almost all, of the entrants. We know their PP’s. We have watched all of their races. So, we have marked their progress and have an opinion about their abilities. As a result my KD handicapping is more a watch than a study. I wait for the final works and let my impressions simmer. I find the overload of information during Derby week can be a distraction. It is a race to go with your gut. It is easy to get wrong because with a field of 20 and a crowd of over a hundred thousand it is impossible to account for all the variables. So it’s best to keep it simple. Will there be good pace? Can one of the pace horses win? If not which colt will benefit from the pace? Who may get a good trip? And lastly, what does your gut say?

I think unquestionably there will be a good pace. Regal Ransom and Join in the Dance -Pletcher’s rabbit- will see to that. If Papa Clem reverts to his usual tactics he’ll be close as will Friesan Fire and Atomic Rain. I don’t think any of this group will survive to cross the wire first, especially if the pace for the first three quarters goes in 23+, 47+, 1:12+, as I expect it will. In his last race Papa Clem changed tactics, he ran off the pace and as a result won his first stake, the (G2) Arkansas Derby. His works have been criticized this week. He’s been tagged as looking “tired.” But, perhaps, Gary Stute is just trying to get him to rate. He’ll need to if he is to win. If they can rate him he has a chance.

There are a lot of closers in this race and Dunkirk leads the list. He seems to have been the “wise guy” horse since his first start. I don’t see it. I agree that he is very talented, maybe even good enough to win, but I am not a believer. He is a slightly built horse so the physicality of the Derby will be an issue as will the 126 lbs impost. Other late runners include West Side Bernie, Mr. Hot Stuff, Advice, Hold Me Back and Summer Bird.

West Side Bernie is coming off of his best race, this is his third race back in the cycle and he worked well this week. But this will be his third race at 1-1/8 or better in 42 days. That just seems too much to me to get the effort necessary to win the Derby. I also believe he is a bit short at 1 -1/4. I think his connections would have been best advised to wait for the Preakness S. (G1).

Hold Me Back is a good price at 15-1. His pedigree is impeccable and he has exhibited moments of brilliance. However, in his lone dirt performance he tanked. He works well on dirt so I would not be shocked to see him move up here but I think he is a level below the best of these.

I really like Summer Bird. Like Dunkirk this is only his 4th race but I think his road has been a bit easier on him. He has responded with a better performance at each asking and of the closers I think he will be the only one to hit the board.

Of the nine mid pack/ press type runners I don’t believe Mine That Bird, Nowhere to Hide or Flying Private have a chance of winning. Chocolate Candy needs to improve more than he is capable of to win. I also don’t like his action for the dirt, so I’m throwing him out. That leaves us with 5 runners from which I think 135th Derby winner will come: Musket Man, General Quarters, I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile and Desert Party.

Of all the colts running Musket Man is the one that I liked best coming up to the race. He is 5 for 6 and still improving. He also possesses all the tools. He is agile, has tactical speed and a late turn of foot. But what sets him apart for me is the will to win he exhibited in his Tampa Bay Derby (G3). To me there is no substitute for heart. Yes, his pedigree is suspect but he’s already proved he can outrun its apparent limits. He breaks from post 2 but with West Side Bernie on his inside and Mr. Hot Stuff to his outside he should have no trouble gaining position on the break. The only horses that will be in front of him will be the speed. He can settle at the rail sixth or seventh on the backstretch and wait until they start backing up. Hopefully, he won’t be blocked and can start his move ahead of the closers. If he does I think he could continue to outrun his pedigree and all the other’s to the wire. Unfortunately with reports of him doing so poorly at Churchill (making one wonder if he is ill) I can’t back him. This is what I mean about an overload of information. If this were another race would he already be scratched? That is how it poorly the reports of his works sound. He is the colt I liked best but with such poor reports I can't bring myself to back him.

Desert Party took a step back in his last prep against Regal Ransom and may be headed in the wrong direction. I also don’t think the Dubai races prepare them enough for this race so I can’t support him.
If General Quarters and Tom McCarthy win it would be the best story possible. However, he isn’t the most agile of horses and he needs room to get his motor into overdrive. I don’t think he’ll get a clean enough trip to overcome his limitations.

I Want Revenge is one of the most agile as demonstrated by his Wood Memorial (G1) win. His last two starts have made him a star. However, those fields played right into his strength. That will not be the case here. His last two Beyer’s have been two of the best for any three-year-old this year and I think it unlikely for him to repeat those numbers. He did post a bullet at CD on 4/28 so perhaps he is still on his game. But I’m betting he won’t be able to shake loose of this field and he’ll wilt before the wire.

Pioneerof the Nile has been on everyone’s radar since his two-year-old season. Since moving to synthetics and Bob Baffert’s barn he hasn’t lost. He’s won four stakes in a row, two of them grade I’s. He has faced some of the toughest opponents in this field and has come out on top. But, he has never raced on dirt. His works at Churchill point to him handling the track but racing and training are not the same. Though doubt remains, without Musket Man being one hundred percent, I think Pioneerof the Nile is the best horse in the race. He will be breaking from post 16 and probably get caught back farther than he is comfortable. But Gomez will give him the best ride possible. If he moves up at all on dirt I think he delivers another Derby to Baffert in the year of his induction to the Hall of Fame.

The Picks:
Win: Pioneerof the Nile -Baffert goes into the Hall in style.
Place: Summer Bird -Skips Preakness to run in the Belmont
Show: Papa Clem -Lays just a little too close and can’t finish.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Derby Trial S. (G3)

Churchill Downs
Derby Trial S. (G3)
7-1/2 Three-Year-Olds $100,000

The story of the Derby Trial S. (G3) is speed, speed and more speed. Usually such a race sets up perfectly for a late closer. In this race only Rendezvous fits that description. However, there are two considerations that need be addressed before handing him the race. First, even if the race is wickedly fast is he actually good enough to win against this very talented field of sprinters? Second, a race with so much speed rarely goes as fast as it appears it will. Will that be the case here? And if so who does that benefit?

I don’t like Rendezvous to win here. It’s been 70 days since he raced. His last cycle consisted of two races at a mile before attempting the 1- 1/8 El Camino real Derby (G3) on 2/14. He finished 3rd by five lengths to stable mate Chocolate Candy, in a mediocre race. A son of Victory Gallop it appears that Hollendorfer had him figured for a route horse and had him training appropriately. Generally speaking I don’t like horses going from a route to sprint first time back. Although 7 -1/2 isn’t your average sprint I think it’s really hard to train that kind of fitness into a horse, especially when facing the quality of sprinters he will be facing in this race. He does show a very nice work on 4/21 but, I don’t think his progression of works point to him being able to put forth the type of effort he would need to win. I can see him getting a small piece but that’s about all.

I don’t expect the race to go in suicidal fractions. Often a race that boasts a lot of speed horses is run in reasonable fractions, especially the first quarter; fast but not blazing. At 7 -1/2 no one wants to encourage an outright speed duel that would undoubtedly invite disaster. To my thinking that makes the second quarter the most important of this race. For that reason I like Santana Six. He is lightly raced and in his last two races, both at a mile, his second fraction was run faster than his first yet he still managed to finish professionally. In this race I think you want to be in front, but not too soon. He has the ability to take the heart away from other horses at just the right spot in a race. It’s been 28 days since his last race so he’s had plenty of time for recovery but not so much that he’s lost his edge. He had a nice tightener on 4/16 over the track at Churchill and Johnny V. stays on, forsaking the Pletcher entry of Checklist .

The horse I was leaning toward for 2nd was Silver City. He has run some really nice races. He has tactical speed and the rail. But I think his races are catching up with him. For that reason I also would have liked to see fewer works for him leading up to this race. Perhaps, then I may have stayed with him. Also, as much as I am a fan of Julien Leparoux’s talents I don’t think he fits this horse well. So I’m passing on him.

Hull, at 3-1 on the ML - second choice- was a surprise to me. Yes, he’s unbeaten but I’m not sure he’s really beaten anybody yet and this is a tough crew. I would have had him at about 5-1. He’s going to have to beat me. I don’t have the faith in him that other’s seem to.

The horse I ended up on is the Mott trained Tintim Por Tintim. His first race wasn’t great but it was a key race. And he was one of the reasons it became a key race. He returned to win next time out going a mile at Gulfstream in 1:36.66. In that race he also ran his second quarter faster than his first and finished well. This is only his 3rd race so he’s fresh and improving. He shows a nice line of works in preparation and Allan Garcia has taken the mount. Also Bill Mott places them where they fit. Perhaps this is a hunch more than a decision based on hard statistics, but those are always the best bets. I can see him and Santana Six keeping each other company two lengths off the pace until exiting the turn. But at the wire I think the added experience of Santana Six will win the day.

The Picks:
Win:------Santana Six. Not what Zito would have liked to win this meet but…
Place:----Tintim Por Tintim Not poor anymore.
Show:-----Rendezvous Still fits the race and he is trained by Hollendorfer.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Coolmore Lexington S. (G2)

Coolmore Lexington S.
1 -1/16 Three Year Olds $300,000

The Coolmore Lexington S. (G2) is supposed to be all about Square Eddie, but his supposed superiority, to even this rather pedestrian field, is questionable to me in this race. The reasons are manifold. First, he hasn’t raced in 91 days. Perhaps that’s not a big deal for older horses, perhaps even older three year-olds, but for a maturing three year old it can make all the difference in the world. It’s impossible to know where he stands in comparison to his crop at this point. Second, the layoff was brought about by injury. Further, it seems from his work tab that he is being rushed and his conditioning may be a bit light for his return. One can make the argument that his class will allow him to overcome. However, one can also look at his last race, The San Rafael (G3) on 1/17 where he ran second to The Pamplemousse, as a turning point where a maturing crop of newly turned three-year-olds started to catch up to him. There are also the considerations of race fitness and experience. Even though he has had 7 races one can envision a young three year-old being a bit green after such a layoff and shipping in from California. After taking all this into consideration one also has to question his ability to come back in three weeks to run in the Derby if he has a hard race. The fact that he doesn’t need the money to enter the gate on May 2 would have me believing the connections are not going to lay him down to win here. I see this as a glorified workout. He may very well be far superior to this bunch but at 9-5 and so many negatives I’m looking elsewhere for my winner.

I didn’t have to look any farther than the next stall from which El Crespo will break. I’m tossing out his first race (Keeneland ), last October, as a learning experience. Since then he has shown some real talent on the turf. In his next race he ran second going two turns at Churchill in what was a key race and followed that up by breaking his maiden going 1- 1/16 at Gulfstream Park. Owner, G. Watts Humphrey and trainer, George Arnold must have thought they had something special at that point because they brought him back in the Grade 3 Holy Bull. Unfortunately he finished up the track. He returned six weeks later to win the 9f Grade 3T, Palm Beach S. under the guidance of J.J. Castellano for the first time. I really like a horse that comes back from an awful performance and does something special. It shows they were not demoralized. It just wasn’t their day, their surface, or something just went wrong. Well he returns here fresh off that win and while it is not turf I think he should be able to transfer his form to the Keeneland track. He is a colt that can stay close on turf and sill finish well and that seems to be a style that lends itself to running well on synthetics. Arnold has kept him fit Castellano stay aboard and I think he will win.

The outside posts haven’t fared too well at Keeneland at 1-1/16th but I’m going to put Advice into my picks even though he breaks from post 11. In his first race this cycle on 2/26 he ran a very game race finishing 3rd going 1-1/16 in an N1x at SA. The comment read “lugged in 1/8.” He obviously got a bit leg weary which is understandable. On 3/29 Pletcher shipped him to New Mexico for the Sunland Derby. In that race he finished very nicely considering he was checked early. He shows a nice work over the Keeneland track and Pletcher takes the blinkers off. Pletcher is 24% when taking the blinkers off and I think this move will help pad that statistic. Advice likes to put in that one late run so this should help relax him early saving valuable energy. The race also sets up well for this type of runner. Gomez takes the mount and that’s never bad. I’m picking him to run very well and pick off horses late but come up short of the winner, El Crespo.
The Picks:
Win:-----El Crespo------Won’t go to Deby despite the win.
Place:----Advice----------Take it he’ll be in the money.
Show:----Square Eddie----Big questions to be answered.

For more analysis on this race check out Amateurcapper's analysis using thorograph figures.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Arkansas Derby (G2)

Oaklawn Park
Arkansas Derby (G2)
1-1/8 3 Year Olds $1,000,000

According to Brisnet early speed types have won 43% at the 9f distance at Oaklawn Park this meet .The 9-5 morning line on Old Fashioned seems to be an acknowledgement that the suicidal fractions he ran in the Rebel S. (G2) were his undoing and that a repeat performance of that effort is not expected. I have to concur with that assessment. However, he will undoubtedly be on or close to the lead as always. The fly in the ointment may be Papa Clem. He likes to create the pace and will be the colt Old Fashioned tracks. He can’t ignore him but he can’t let him get away either. The race these two horses run will determine the outcome.

Danger to Society has displayed an interest in being forwardly placed but I don’t believe he can run the early fractions these two are capable of and still finish. Flying Private has also shown a proclivity to run up close in the past but more recently has taken back and that style has resulted in his best performances, so I don’t expect a change in this race.

After the Louisiana Derby (G2) rather than returning to California, Gary Stute decided to train Papa Clem at Oaklawn Park. I think that decision may turn out to make all the difference. While training on a track is not the same as racing over it, the familiarity and comfort it creates is sometimes invaluable. Following the La. Derby Papa Clem has continued to work very well and on schedule at Oaklawn.

The same can be said about Old Fashioned except that it was 17 days after the Rebel before he worked again. I am always concerned when I see a delay of that duration after a race. Did the race take too much out of him? Or is the trainer just trying to keep his horse fresh? After a race Larry Jones does have a tendency to wait longer than many trainers before his horses return to the work tab so in this case I’m going to presume the latter.

If Papa Clem goes to the front and Old Fashioned relaxes behind him, as I expect they will, we should be in store for a classic finish between the two. If they hook each other perhaps neither hits the board. I am betting on the former scenario. I don’t think the race will go fast enough to allow the field to close on the front two. While perhaps a bit boring I have to put this duo one, two.

To finish off the trifecta I’m going to take a stab at some value and pick the 30-1 morning line, Summer Bird. He is by Birdstone who is developing into a very nice sire and with his dam sire being Summer Squall, distance will never be an issue with this colt. The only question is ability and that question should be answered in this race. The light seemed to go on for this colt halfway through his first race, a 6f sprint, when he rallied from 8 lengths back to finish 4th by only a length. He broke his maiden next out going two turns. He earned a high speed figure in that race as he ran the 1- 1/16 at Oaklawn only one tick slower than the time of the Rebel S. four days earlier. He returned with a 5f bullet on 4/4. I like to see that kind of work after a horse runs a presumably hard race. To me it says the horse likes the competition and he’s ready for more. This is a pretty nice group of colts but a three year old can emerge quickly this time of year. At the price I think he’s worth risking a few dollars on.

The Picks:
Win: Papa Clem -- Papa finally gets a Black type win.
Place: Old Fashioned -- His last race leaves him a length short.
Show: Summer Bird -- He has to wait until the summer to fly

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Wood Memorial (G1)

Wood Memorial
1-1/8th 3 Year Olds $750,000

Considering all the connections that had mentioned running in the 85th Wood Memorial (G1) the field came up as a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps the combined concerns for graded stakes money and running against I Want Revenge are too much of an impediment. That’s one of the problems with the system of having graded stakes earnings being the determinant to pass the entry box, but more about that another time.

The Wood Memorial (G1) is all about I Want Revenge. He is the legitimate 4-5 morning line favorite. It is his race to play with. He doesn’t have to win, he just needs a good effort to set him up well for the Kentucky Derby (G1). That consideration leaves some possibility for another colt to step up and get into the gate on May 2.

The most likely candidate is the McGaughey trained Imperial Council. Many of the “experts” have him on their top-ten lists even though he is lightly raced. His sire, Empire Maker, won this race in 2003 and as a result was installed as the favorite to take the roses. He is developing into a top sire and as a son of Unbridled is he has the pedigree to bestow the stamina necessary for the classic distances. However, the get of Empire Maker have, thus far, been notoriously slow developing. Better for the breed, perhaps, but to collect accolades in May? That’s yet to be determined. So questions remain for both of the ML favorites.

It is possible, likely in fact, that I Want Revenge will regress a bit from his career best Gotham performance. He is assured of being in the gate on May 2, so the incentive to push the colt to his limits is not present. Of course he probably won’t need that effort to beat this field. So the question is will his performance be good enough to win?

Imperial Council is likely to continue to improve. However, he did run a 98 Beyer in the Gotham as a distant runner-up to I Want Revenge . That’s already a big number and one wonders how much he can improve in 4 weeks. Also, as already noted, being a son of Empire Maker one would expect him to bloom more around the time of the Travers. So questions remain for him as well.

I don’t doubt that these two will hit the board. With the exception of West Side Bernie they are seemingly far superior to most of this field. However, as a handicapper one has to try to figure where there is value. And with these two there is none. If you can find a colt you like aside from them and West Side Bernie, the likely third betting choice, you may be able to cash a decent ticket.

I don’t like West Side Bernie here. He’s coming off a poor race in the Lane’s End (G2) just two weeks ago and is wheeled back here, in my estimation, to collect some graded stakes money. The caveat is that his best races have been on dirt. But I’ll pass. It’s too much too quickly.

My choice to hit the board is Lime Rickey. So far he has raced only on turf but being by Lemon Drop Kid out of a Deputy Minister mare he has every right to run as well or better on dirt than grass. He has fared well against the likes of Bittel Road and Pioneerof the Nile on turf and has displayed nice works on the main track at GP. There is a concern that he is a horse that has seconditis but I’m betting he just can’t finish up as well on grass as he will on dirt. Most of the field in the Wood likes to be close to the pace and that also sets up well for him as he likes to come from off the pace. I’ll just place one bet in this race, Lime Rickey across the board. The morning line is 20-1 and I’d be happy to get 8-1.
I was hopingto see Musket Man run in the Wood. I thought his Tampa Bay Derby (G3) was an exceptional race, and thought he would fit well at Aqueduct. I'm not sure that the Illionois Derby(G2) is a better choice for him. But back to the race at hand...
The Picks.
Win: Imperial Council -----He gets it done and get’s Shug a Derby berth.
Place: Lime Rickey----------Finally finds his surface and his seasoning pays off.
Show: I Want Revenge-----He does what he has to do.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Florida Derby (G1)

Florida Derby (G1)
1-1/8 Year Olds $750,000

The Grade I Florida Derby drew a field of nine including Dunkirk the latest "buzz" horse of the prep season. And why shouldn't he be? He's a good looking son of Unbridled’s Song out of the A.P. Indy mare Secret Status. She won the Kentucky Oaks (G1), The Mother Goose (G1) and the Florida Oaks (G3). He brought $3,700,000 at auction. And if that’s not enough he's also trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Garrett Gomez. What's not to like? That's akin to being born to royalty. However, 9-5 in a Grade I on a colt that’s had only two starts is anything but value. Granted they were both impressive wins, but this field will be much tougher than those he faced on the lower rungs of the ladder. He may have the pedigree to run forever, the team and the looks but he has yet to face adversity. He may win, maybe by a lot but at 9-5 I have to look elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Quality Road, the horse I like to win doesn't offer much value either. However, I do believe his morning line odds of 2-1 will drift up because Dunkirk will be being over bet. I'm hoping for 3-1 but would be happy with 5-2. Jimmy Jerkens has this colt ready. His strong winning performance in the FOY speaks for him liking the track. Since then he has worked twice, a 4f maintenance work on 3/3 and a fast 7f move in 1:25 on 3/21. I would rather have seen that work be a bit slower, however, it does show he is ready for the distance and it may help him relax a little more in this race than he has in the past. If Europe stays in he's going to have to relax if he hopes to cross the wire first. I think he will and I think John Velazquez will ride him to perfection. Having Toby the Coal Man on his inside should help as he should have room at the break to attain ground saving position as the field sorts itself out.

I'm also leaving Dunkirk out of my exacta. I’m going with Sincero in that position. I like how this colt looks in the PP's. He won, but was DQ'd first out at Calder going 6-1/2f. He came back in the $400k restricted In Reality S. (1-1/16) and ran a good 4th after steadying at the start. In his next and last '08 appearance he broke his maiden at 1 mi 70. Those performances show some real talent. Since embarking on the new season he has run three times. He has not enjoyed good racing luck. In his first race back on 1/8 his comment line reads “Slow st; bmpd 1st turn. That also happened to be the race that made a temporary star out of Free Country. Sincero finished 5th of 8 but only 6 1/2 back.

The comment in his next race on 1/31 reads, "Bumped st, faltered." He finished 9 back of Take the Points, another pretty nice horse. Still he had an excuse. In his most recent race he finished 3rd by 6-1/2. The comment line says he ran wide. But that’s not an excuse. I think there were two more pertinent reasons why he lost that race. He ran into a very good horse in Dunkirk and he didn’t work between races. Manuel Azpurua has remedied that situation for this race. Sincero shows two works in preparation for this race, a 4f work on 3/7 and a bullet 5f work on 3/21 at Calder in 1:00 1H. I think this colt has the talent and finally has all the tumblers aligned. If Quality Road does too much early I can see this colt taking the big prize.

To round out my trifecta I used the horse of the moment and maybe the future, Dunkirk. There's no question he has talent but at this level it generally requires experience as well. He’ll get a lot of that here but he won’t get my money to win or place.

The Picks:
Win: Quality Road
Place: Sincero
Show: Dunkirk

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Lane's End, Note, Turway Fiasco

Turfway Park
Lanes End (G2)
1-1/8th Three year-olds $500,000

During the process of elimination each and every handicapper looks for something to give him an edge, perhaps some little nugget that most have overlooked. Unfortunately, in the Lane’s End (G3) I can’t glean anything that would dissuade me from going with the two favorites, Bittel
Road and West Side Bernie.

Last week I wrote about how the R.B.Lewis (G2) is the key race of the prep season (see ROTW). In that race Bittel Road finished 4th two lengths back. The three horses that finished ahead of him were, Pioneerof the Nile, PapaClem and I Want Revenge. With the exception of a bad race in the BC Juvenile Turf he has done nothing wrong except perhaps having the bad luck of running into the west coast’s toughest competitors. On Saturday he won’t be denied his moment in the sun. He is simply the best horse in the race.

His most likely competition will come from West Side Bernie. He too ran poorly in a BC race (Juvenile) but there is nothing else not to like. He’s won a stakes at Turfway and gives his all every race. He ran second a length back of the winner in the Delta Jackpot (G3). Terrain who finished a distant 5th in the DJ came back to be 3rd in the Louisiana Derby (G2). In his only start this year West Side Bernie ran a respectable third in the Holy Bull (G3). Both of those races were on dirt. Saturday he returns to synthetics. Being a son of Bernstein out of a Gilded Time mare--it reasonable to assume that turf or synthetics may be where he belongs. He displays three very sharp works for this return and the connections have secured the services of Edgar Prado. All looks well for West Side Bernie cashing a check.

The final spot is up for grabs. I see it as coming down to three horses. Hold Me Back, Jack Spratt or Proceed Bee.
Proceed Bee appears to be a turf /synthetic specialist and won the 100K J. Battaglia Memorial at TP. However, I don’t like how he finishes, even when winning, so I’m throwing him out.

Hold Me Back hasn’t been out since finishing 14 lengths behind Old Fashioned in the Remsen (G2) on 11-29 but that was on dirt. He has won both of his starts on a synthetic surfaces. He shows a strong work pattern punctuated by a bullet work on 3/15. Bill Mott also knows how to win off of a layoff. My instincts say to go with him. However, I don’t like his post position (1) and his lack of racing experience so I’m going to let intellect overrule instinct in this case and take a pass on him.

I had high hopes for Jack Spratt in the FOY but he came up flat. But I think he will appreciate the switch back to a synthetic track. I also am encouraged by the nice work he had after running such a poor race in the FOY. To me that’s a sign of a determined horse and I see him rebounding here. He has run well at TP and has the services of Julien Leparoux who knows a little something about winning at Turfway Park. He is also the only horse I see as a possible spoiler, albeit a slim possibility. Nonetheless he will be my pick for third.

Regardless of which horse wins I do not see any of them as factors on the road to the Derby. I think the best horses in this field will continue to see their successes come on synthetic surfaces.

The Picks:
Win: Bittel Road
Place: West Side Bernie
Show: Jack Spratt

A note to my readers.
I have to apologize for the infrequency of posts over the previous several months. I don't know when I will be able to post on a more consistent schedule again. Hopefully, sooner than later. However, I will be posting a minimum of once a week (on Fridays). And that will be a handicapping post. I have a lot more to say but my current schedule doesn't allow me to allocate the necessary time needed to do a proper job at blogging.
Final Note:
Is there any wonder why there are problems in racing? Turfway Park's hierarchy, in their infinite wisdom, are charging ten dollars admission on Saturday - Lane's End Day - when they usually have free admission. Is it any wonder why the sport has a problem attracting fans? Soak people on the biggest handle day of the season. It's a pitiful display of greed. I know they're having a tough time filling races et al. but if you want to nurture relationships you have to do the right thing. I hope no one shows up at the track!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Gotham S. (G3)

Aqueduct Racetrack
The Gotham S. (G3)
1 1/16 - Three Year Olds - $250,000
The synthetic surfaces of California are responsible for a few earlier than usual west coast invaders. The connections of I Want Revenge and Axel Foley are eager to see if their horses will
adjust to a real dirt surface.

Jeff Mullin’s I Want Revenge brings the most accomplished resume to the Gotham. His last two races, the Cash Call Futurity (G1) and RB Lewis (G2) were both excellent efforts. In the Cash Call he finished second by a nose to the formidable Pioneerof the Nile. In the RB Lewis he stayed close to the pace and made the lead before fading to third behind Pioneeof the Nile and Papa Clem. If this race was on a synthetic track he would be my choice. I think Pioneerof the Nile may be the premier colt of his division at this stage and I Want Revenge measured up well against him. But it is too much to expect a horse to run in top form in his first appearance on a new surface. He is by Steven Got Even and in my opinion they tend to run better on turf than dirt. Perhaps that is why he takes to the artificial surfaces. I don’t expect him to run to form on the dirt and will leave him out of my picks.

Two hometown runners, Haynesfield and Mr.Fantasy will figure prominently in the running of the race. Mr. Fantasy’s two races resulted in impressive speed figures. However, both were earned in state [NY] company. He has yet to be challenged but it’s certain he will be here. There is quite a buzz surrounding Mr. Fantasy and the connections are very excited about this colt. His team is an easy one to root for. He is also a half brother to Tin Cup Chalice, the winner of last year’s NY Big Apple Triple. But I feel this spot is a little too ambitious for him at this stage of his career; but I’ll be rooting for him.

The Steve Asmussen trained Haynesfield has more seasoning and boasts a 5-4-0-1 record but has run against suspect competition thus far. Asmussen always has them ready and with C.C. Lopez up I would expect Haynesfield to break well and run his usual race, up close or on the lead all the way around. And while I see him fighting for a show check with I Want Revenge, show may be the best he can do.

Masala, is an interesting horse. In three races he has, for all intents and purposes, run on three different surfaces: turf, wet and fast. He ran well on each of them. In his last he ran second to Take the Points. That horse shipped west and finished second to The Pamplemousse in last week’s Sham S. (G3). I expect Masala to move up going two turns. He’s had five weeks between races and great works at Palm Meadows. Coa is making the trip and I figure this pair will finish well and pick up a check.

My choice to win is Imperial Council. In his debut last summer at Saratoga he ran second by a neck to Hello Broadway. His next appearance was in October when he broke his maiden going 7f. at Belmont in a key race. Shug gave him a little time after that. They brought him back at GP Feb. 14th in money allowance conditions and he gutted out a tough victory. This is a signal to me that he has matured nicely. It’s been only three weeks since his return but McGaughey wouldn’t bring him back if he had any concerns. He’s by Empire Maker out of the Thunder Gulch mare Jaramar Rain so he will appreciate the added distance. He’s coming off a bullet at Payson Park. His works there assure he has a bottom in him. He has to overcome stretching out and a talented field but I see all systems ready to go.
The Picks:
Win: Imperial Council
Place: Masala
Show: Haynesfield

1 __ Naos________M.Luzzi______ T. Pletcher____116_ 20-1
2__ Russell Road__T.Dunkelberger_ J. Casey_____116_ 20-1
3__Masala_______E.Coa________T. Pletcher____116____5-1
4 __Axel Foley____R.Migliore____K. McLaughlin__116___15-1
5__ Mr. Fantasy___A. Garcia_____K.McLaughlin__116___7-2
6__Haynesfield____C.Lopez_______S. Asmussen__120___5-1
7__Imperial Council_R. Maragh___C. McGaughey__116___5-2
8__I Want Revenge_J. Talamo_____J. Mullins_____116___ 3-1
9__ Giant Ryan___J. Sanchez______B. Parboo____116_____50-1

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Fountain Of Youth (G2)

Gulfstream Park
The Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2)
1 Mile - Three Year Olds - $250,000

This competitive edition of The Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) features plenty of speed. But at the mile distance a speed duel will result in almost certain failure. As such, this is not a race in which I expect pure athleticism to prevail. The most important ingredient will be strategy and a horse’s ability to execute that strategy. A field with this much speed appears to set up for a closer. But everyone knows the situation and they may not be eager to send their horse. In that case the pace may not be too fast for a horse that can stretch its’ speed. Here are the two most likely scenarios.

The first is that the horse that breaks well attempts to extend that advantage immediately. This will force others to chase producing a very fast early pace, resulting in two perhaps three horses on top with daylight between them and the field. They will burn themselves out. The second is that everyone tries to get their horse to settle and they wait for the first move. I’m betting on the first type of race developing.

There are three horses that I think will cause this to happen; Taqarub, Quality Road and Notonthesamepage. These three have shown ability only when they’re on the engine. Perhaps their connections have tried to teach their charges to rate but when the gates open, I say all bets are off concerning their ability to rate and win. If they want to get to the Derby they need purse money, so patience is not an option. Notonthesamepage is the only one of this trio to have run in a race of more than 7 furlongs and he finished poorly in that attempt. It is a tall order for a colt to stretch out for the first time against this field and at this distance. It’s one turn and allows no time for a breather. I give these three little chance of hitting the board.

I’m not a believer in This One’s for Phil. The 3-1 Morning Line favorite drew the favorable outside post and Prado is up again. He obviously loves GP. His last race was one of the most talked about this spring, but I read it as an anomaly. He will have to prove to me he’s real. He’ll have to beat me.

I’m looking for a horse that can run professional fractions and still have a late turn of foot. The horse that best fits that description is Beethoven. He has proven himself up to 1 1/16th and with Calvin Borel up he isn’t likely to waste any ground. I think the race sets up well for him. The front tier should eliminate themselves; the next group will run fast fractions and Beethoven should close well. His pedigree, Sky Mesa -Moonlight Sonata (Carson City) leads me to think he’ll only get better with added distance and I’ll be looking for good things from him in the future.

Capt. Candyman Can will complete my exacta. He has already shown he can stretch his speed. He is a very consistent and classy horse. If the front tier pulls away he has the speed to track them. If he needs to rate he has shown that ability too. Since Pat Day retired there is no one better than Julien Leparoux at measuring distance. In his only two losses Capt. Candayman Can’s running lines note real issues; "tentative over shadows" and "taken up in tight late." I think he’ll probably be a little too involved in the pace to withstand Beethoven’s late run. My concern with him is his work tab. It doesn’t make me extremely confident that his wind is where it needs to be. I think he is on course to ‘peak’ another day. He has experience, class and versatility. He will run a game race.

To fill out the board I like the other son of Candy Ride(ARG) Jack Spratt. He is steadily improving and has the late running style that fits the race. I also like the progression of works since his last race. He has already shown ability on two surfaces and his works suggest dirt will be no different. He showed great improvement and talent in besting Lime Rickey and Beacon Hill Road in his last race and I think he will improve off of that effort. With any proven dirt form at all I may have picked him to pull a big upset.
  • The Picks:
    Win: Beethoven
    Place: Capt. Candyman Can
    Show: Jack Spratt

# Horse Jockey Wt. ML
1***Bee Cee Cee**********C. Valasquez*****120********30-1
2**Theregoesjojo******** K. Desormeaux***116********15-1
3**Notonthesamepage****E. Trujillo*******120********4-1
4**Take the Points*******C. Decarlo********116********10-1
5**Jack Spratt***********R. Douglas*******120********20-1
6**Rocketing Returns****J. Lezcano********116********5-1
7**Beethoven************C. Borel**********122********12-1
8**Break Water Edison***E. Coa***********122********15-1
9**Capt. Candyman Can**J. Leparoux******122********5-1
10*Taqarub**************A. Garcia*********120********6-1
11*Quality Road**********J. Velasquez******114 (L1)****8-1
12**This One’s for Phil****E. Prado**********120*******3-1

Friday, February 20, 2009

San Carlos Handicap (G3)

Santa Anita Park
San Carlos H. (G2)
7 Furlongs (All Weather Track) - 4 Year Olds And Up - $150,000

The San Carlos Handicap (G3) drew a contentious field of six. For a sprint, the race has come up short on early speed. This may result in a race where the final quarter is run as fast as the first. Keeping this in mind, because of the small field, we can take a look at how this scenario may play out with each horse.

Star Nicholas drew the rail which has produced 30% of the winners of 7 furlong races at Santa Anita this meet. Unfortunately he does not possess the early speed that would take true advantage of the post position. But, with a preferred late running style and a field of only six, the rail should not compromise his race. He is also an all-weather specialist having cashed a check in 9 of 10 starts on synthetic tracks. The good news stops there. In the San Carlos he will be facing the classiest competition he has yet faced. As with most late running horses he runs best into a hotly contested pace and I don’t think he’ll get that until late when everyone will be finishing. Pass.

I see three very promising signs for Halo Najib. The first is that he ran very well while returning to sprinting in his last race. Since then he has continued to train like a sprinter. His work tab displays some very sharp works. It should also be noted that Bejarano has enough confidence in him that he passed the mount on Past The Point. Halo Najib usually looks to make a late run but won’t make up any ground on the best of these. He was closer than usual in his return race and his works hint at new tactics. So, I won’t be surprised to see him close throughout the running. I don’t usually like a horse second back in sprints, especially one that is not known as a sprinter but he’s showing signs that he’ll improve albeit not enough to win.

Yankee Bravo is the real dark horse in this race. He’s a classy horse that has been away more than nine months. It is a very difficult distance for a return and the field is too talented to expect him to win. I think he’ll need a miracle to win this race. He was, and may continue to be a very nice horse, but I don’t think he’s placed to win this one. Perhaps the connections have something else in mind a little down the road. I’ll pass, but hope he does well.

Past The Point likes to run on the front, that will be a big advantage. He will inherit the lead and if the pace is soft, as noted in the introduction, he should have plenty left to finish. He is cutting back in distance and that extra conditioning will serve him well the last 1/8th. This race will be a handicapper’s favorite; third off a layoff. And, the three works he shows since his last race say he’s still fresh. If the race goes in 46 or slower he’ll be hard, maybe impossible, to catch.

Georgie Boy, the likely favorite, is nine of ten in the money on synthetics. He has won two of three at this distance and three of five at Santa Anita. If that’s not scary enough, he’s also learned to rate. However, he has probably done his best racing while making the pace or sitting just off of it. In my opinion he should revert to that style of running for this race because he is the only horse that can put needed pressure on Past The Point, and still win. If Halo Najib does not change tactics, without Georgie Boy up close Past The Point will find himself comfortably alone on the lead. That will spell disaster for the field. But I think they will continue to try to rate him and that will be his undoing. This will also be his third race back off a layoff. He shows one maintenance drill since his Jan 24th race and that work seemed sub-par. Unless he is up close in this race he is vulnerable.

Mutadda. If Thomas Amoss is shipping a horse across country one should take notice. He’s also been working perfectly up to the race. But, beyond those considerations I don’t find anything to like. Here’s a few of the negatives. A Grade II is a big, difficult step up in class from an overnight stakes at Fairgrounds. Synthetics aren’t a surface he has excelled on. He’s shipping a long distance. And, he’s another horse that wants to run late in a race where all but one horse shows that preference. He’s in over his head. Pass

The Picks:

Win:----Past The Point --Out in front and holds off Georgie Boy by a nose.
Place:--Georgie Boy ------They rate him a little and he comes up a nose short.
Show:--Halo Najib--------I talked myself into it with all the positives.


1-----Star Nicholas-----M. Baze----------114-----12-1
2-----Halo Najib--------R.Bejarano-----114-----5-1
3-----Yankee Bravo-----A. Solis----------116-----15-1
4-----Past The Point----J. Rosario-------115-----4-1
5-----Georgie Boy-------G. Gomez--------120----3-5
6-----Mutadda----------J. Talamo-------115-----6-1